Grain built cities, millstones liberated them

Excerpt from a fascinating talk (go and read the whole transcript!):

There’s only one way to feed a city, at least historically, and that’s to feed it with grains—rice, wheat, maize, barley, sorghum, etc.. …

And what do you need in terms of grains? For most of history—really, until about 150 years ago—most people in most cities, except for the very wealthy, lived almost exclusively on grains. They got about ninety percent of their calories from grains.

That meant that for every single person in a city you had to have 2 lbs of grains a day, turned into something that people could eat. …

Depending on how good you are, it takes somewhere between fifty minutes and an hour to do enough maize for tortillas for one person. That means for a family of five someone is going to be spending four or five hours a day doing nothing but grind. It’s very exhausting, grinding.

It’s particularly fascinating when she gets into why milling came later to mexico (has too do with the consistency and nutrition of corn that’s ground while dry vs corn that’s ground wet). I wish I had time to say more on this subject, but I’m only one week out from my qualifying exam and falling to pieces mentally (which I’m told is all a part of the process).

h/t The Agricultural Biodiversity Weblog

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